Gross Negligence & Product Design Defect

Operator Paralyzed by Earth Scraper with Faulty Transmission and Unsafe Seat


  • Claims by Plaintiff: Gross Negligence-Equipment Design Defect & Marketing Defect-Workplace Maintenance Negligence
  • Plaintiff was operating earth scraper at a construction site when the scraper suddenly and violently began to bounce up and down, causing plaintiff to sustain burst fracture of spine, eight fractured ribs, and a punctured lung.
  • Spinal fracture resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down.

Case Summary

Plaintiff claimed he was wearing the lap seat belt as required by safety regulations. The scraper in question had repairs done by the employer’s mechanic two days before the incident and again less than three hours before the incident.

McDowell Owens Engineering was retained by Plaintiff’s counsel to evaluate the scene of the incident, the subject scraper, and all data and evidence to determine what events led to and/or caused the incident and subsequent injuries to the Plaintiff.

After several inspections of the scene and the equipment coupled with an exhaustive analysis of documents produced we determined the following:

      • Scraper shifted improperly and on its own, possibly from sixth gear to second or from fifth to reverse, and that it shook and bucked violently up and down
      • The transmission had faulty gear sensors and no failsafe or confirmation mechanism to prevent faulty signals from causing improper shifting, such as form sixth gear to second or from fifth to reverse.
      • It was determined that signals traveled on a single wire and relied on pulse waves, a technology that was decades old.
      • The seat was insufficient and did not adequately protect the operator from the rugged application and terrain on which a scraper operates
        • The seat was air-cushioned with a single shock absorber and a lap belt.
        • The seat should have had double shocks, more cushioning, and a three-point shoulder harness, as well as a “safe ride height” indicator; which was available by 2004.
      • There were dozens of warranty claims from 2002 to 2009 that showed scrapers moving inconsistently with operator commands or shifting on their own and seats bottoming out.


The jury found unanimously for Plaintiff and awarded Plaintiff $56 million dollars.

Finding the Truth Behind the How and Why